How Can You Be So Insensitive?

We often discuss how brands must be much more personal to create equity in the age of social media, but when the relationship between brand and consumer becomes so intimate, the negative impact of a breach of trust can be exponentially greater than ever before.

Hurricane Sandy was an opportunity for social media to show off some of its best sides; Facebook and Twitter played a large role in preventing unnecessary injuries and loss of life during the storm, enabling real time communications that aided evacuation and served as a primary informational resource for those stranded or without power. The hashtag #SMEM (or Social Media Emergency Management) has been picking up steam in recent years, as more people and public safety organizations realize the value of these networks in times of emergency; Sandy was a resonating proof of concept.

Social media also has served the citizens of the affected areas in the aftermath of the storm. Awareness for the needs of aid groups like the Red Cross is at an all time high, making relief more efficient. Local communities are leveraging their networks to organize cleanup and rebuilding initiatives. The power of these tools mean that our nation will face future disaster level events far better prepared than ever before.

On the other side of the coin, there were some severe missteps by brands communicating via social media platforms during the storm that just didn’t sit right with many individuals. In an age where we have the ability to geotarget messaging, it was unnecessary for Groupon and LivingSocial to offer its latest great deals for restaurants that were closed without electricity, or the attractions that would be closed for the next week dealing with water damage from flooding. Gap and American Apparel both touched a nerve with communications about shopping during the storm. Furthermore, the storm arrived just before Halloween, and some Tweeting businesses failed to understand that most residents of New York and New Jersey weren’t exactly feeling up to partying late into the night. In the moment, many brands simply did not exercise common sense.

It is crucial to avoid mistakes like these that can destroy loyalties so easily in an increasingly volatile marketplace. Businesses would benefit far more from sending one less tweet and steering clear of insensitivity. Social media is about conversation; brands must avoid faux-pas like these to keep relationships strong.

Testing the Pressure: The Consumer Barometer

Marketers from the “golden age” of advertising have had their legend inflated to great heights by television’s Mad Men. But no matter how cool they were (or at least seem to us today), those executives would be green with envy at our ability to collect, measure, and react to data in the 21st century.

Of course, we live in a radically different paradigm than this idealized era. The seemingly endless amount of information at our disposal would be absolutely useless in the context of the 1950s or 60s. Unfortunately, simply having access to this bevy of facts and figures does not automatically make the modern marketer better; the more we know about consumers, the less we often seem to understand them at all. The challenge we face is how to intelligently interpret and react to the ‘Big Data’ at our fingertips. In order to make sense of what we know, we must sort through the veritable ocean of information and decide which data is relevant, and how best to apply it.

Earlier this year, Ersnt & Young Advisory Services reported the findings of a monumental market research survey in This Time It’s Personal: From Consumer to Co-Creator that revealed several important new findings about the behavior and preferences of modern consumers. Accruing nearly 25,000 responses globally, the survey presented insights into the new breed of consumer and the trends that, in response, might characterize 2013.

The report describes the “Chameleon” consumer – who defies any traditional persona and disrupts the old notion of strict market segmentation. Thanks to the prevalence of this behavior, brand loyalty has become more transient, as preferences quickly change in a more crowded market with more options. Creating strong brand experiences now requires far more personalized communication and service. Consumers are empowered, and they want to be active ‘co-creators,’ not just an audience. We already know that marketing ‘lingo’ has been made effectively obsolete by social media, but these findings are a broader comment on the changing nature of commerce itself.

Visualized graphically, there is a clear consistency of response in the data across different verticals and the various channels of communication that drive marketing around the world. Regardless of industry, respondents had uniform expectations about the dynamic between marketer and consumer. As such, the implications for businesses of all kinds are twofold;

1. Businesses must focus on offering more personalized service to customers, and
2. Every link in the organizations’ ‘chain’ must be aligned to delivering the brand promise.

In a rapidly changing ecosystem that has taken a great deal of control away from marketers who fail to understand consumers, it is the best path to creating sustainable relationships with the new breed. With 2013 just around the corner, the pressure is on.

Waves Still Resonate from Hurricane Sandy

We are just more than two weeks removed from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, the ‘superstorm’ that devastated the northeast like a bad Halloween prank from Mother Nature. Sandy is, by some measures, the second most destructive storm in US history. It was a monumental storm with national impact and significant implications for businesses across the country at a particularly sensitive time. The event offered some notable storylines concerning how social media, infrastructure, and our polarizing political climate affect American business:

– One of the first and ultimately most iconic images of the storm was a crane hanging off the top of a new 1000+ foot luxury high rise under construction in midtown Manhattan, its 80-ton swing arm damaged within just a few hours of the arrival of the storm. Fortunately the apparatus was ultimately secured after 6 days, avoiding further damage, but the twisted metal hanging in the balance for nearly a week served as a symbol the power of the storm and the damage it would ultimately cause. It was the first tangible topic across news outlets and exploded across social media platforms.

– Sandy exposed the fragility of our mighty infrastructure in cities and towns up and down the Atlantic coast. Widespread and prolonged power outages were one of the most common effects of the storm, along with damaged or flooded roads and interruptions in public transportation. The extensive infrastructure that characterizes the modern world is an extremely sturdy network, but was nonetheless helpless against this force of nature. It was a reminder of the looming unknown and the importance of contingency plans.

– The storm chose a highly controversial time to strike, landing in the run up to last Tuesday’s elections. Pundits from both sides of the political spectrum were quick to postulate on the effects of the storm and the government’s response. Contrary to many natural disasters, which can unify citizens in response, Sandy became a far more polarizing event, an unfortunate twist for the victims of its wrath who were seeking help but instead became simply votes to be won over. One congressional campaign manager even lost his job after intentionally reporting misinformation to sway public perceptions.

– Finally, many gears in the business world came to a grinding halt as New York City and other metropolitan areas affected by the storm shut down. Sandy kept employees from getting to work, cut off supply chains, and introduced a great deal of pessimism heading towards the end of the fiscal year.  Wall Street was shut down as the New York Stock Exchange was closed for two consecutive days, the first time in 124 years. High end New York City restaurants served as a strong example of the broad economic impact of the disaster; they suffered millions of dollars in losses in operational revenues and spoiled perishable inventory, and the city’s army of tip-earning employees enduring a long stretch without pay has lead to a true worst-case scenario for a significant chunk of the Big Apple’s workforce.

The region is slowly recovering from the storm, and as the weather returns to normalcy, so too will the climate across politics, business, and everyday life. But Sandy will be long remembered as a resounding example of the perils of the unexpected. While many industries are still faced with new challenges brought by Sandy, others are rallying in response to increased demand and helping where they can.  Business is a confluence, and a great measure of success is about adaptability in times like these.

No Fright in this Night

As Halloween descends upon us, images of copious amounts of candy corn and miniature chocolates, vampires and werewolves, and children roaming moonlit streets on a brisk autumn evening are conjured. The latest scary movie (this season, it’s the fourth installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise) hits the theaters, and in 2012, some real life drama is even injected with the arrival of the “Frankenstorm.” Amidst all the storylines, the second largest consumer holiday on the calendar, after Christmas, is an alluring holiday not just for the American public, but for business, where an entire economy is built upon our love for the spooky day.

According to the National Retail Federation, 148 million Americans take part in the festivities each year. It’s not just the candy companies who love this time of year. In its 2010 “Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey,” the Federation found that we spend an average of $66.28 per person on costumes and decorations in addition to sweets, a number which can be expected to increase as the weaker economy that has slowed consumer spending over the past few years continues to recover.

Temporary Halloween stores selling costumes and other kitsch out of available retail space pop up all over the country, and established retailers rush to expand their offerings and ad campaigns to include the Halloween theme ahead of the 31st. Another trend taking flight is restaurants, bars, and clubs cashing in by charging cover and marking up drinks during Halloween parties. Millions of dollars are at stake, and everyone wants a piece of the pumpkin pie.

The fascination with the holiday that leads us to so easily open our wallets has much to do with escapism and relief from the everyday mundane. Putting on a costume and reveling in the night is a way to forget about work and other stresses. Businesses have capitalized on our love affair with this particular celebration, but supporting a quirky little niche of the economy is all the more reason to put on our zombie makeup and enjoy being someone else for an evening.

Don’t Talk the Talk

More than just resonating through pop culture and slowly destroying productivity, social media has undoubtedly altered the way we communicate and the way we react. Businesses have recently felt the pressure to change strategies to brand themselves effectively in the paradigm that social media has established. Creating the right kind of message is an integral part of designing effective PR and customer relationship management strategies, but greater business strategies in this day and age also rely heavily on the effectiveness of a marketing message; essentially, it’s up to marketers to position a brand with the new breed of target audiences in order to succeed.

Deeper digital immersion in our everyday lives, where everything is fast-paced and information flows quickly and freely, has forced marketing to fundamentally change to adapt. The increased speed of dialogue exchange online means that the time allotted for “elevator pitching” has shrunk considerably.  Traditionally, this would mean a focus on frontloading as much attention-grabbing material in a pitch, or risking distraction and disinterest. Now, the structure of visual and language cues has changed completely – consumers are no longer captivated by marketing ‘speak,’ but actively dismiss messages that contain buzz words and immediate calls-to-action.

This modern consumer is highly attuned to the kind of messaging that has been thrown their way over the course of the last 50 years of marketing. But this is not necessarily a bad thing; social media has forced messaging to change, but it has changed for the better.

People today are looking to engage in conversations and build trust to ultimately drive their purchase behaviors. Because this dialogue is a two-way street rather than a unidirectional assault of marketing messages, the result is an opportunity for marketers to create stronger, more personal relationships with consumers when designing and executing a campaign. Businesses that promote authenticity are highly successful in this new paradigm, although the other extreme, where some companies swear or otherwise push boundaries of decency in advertising, doesn’t work well. Messaging can be fun and authentic without crossing these lines.

Companies must focus on a more integrated approach that speaks to a wide spectrum, reaching peers, industry influencers, and most importantly, customers in a manner that aligns with not just a company’s brand identity and resources, but its goals and objectives. Marketing jargon is effectively dead, but if more companies successfully transition to the new lingo, we will be listening closer than ever before.

Is Search Dead?

A long, long time ago, a brand new concept known as the ‘World Wide Web’ was emerging into the public eye. The idea of an interconnected network of information was novel, and the possibilities limitless, but the web lacked the organization necessary to make it really work. “Surfing” the web was all that could be done; users literally clicked across the web from hyperlink to hyperlink in search of a particular page, or with no real direction at all. That all changed in 1995, when Yahoo! began sorting through the mess to put websites into categorical directories that could help users find what they were looking for. Later, Google came along and fundamentally changed the way users interacted with the web with the introduction of a functional search engine. Suddenly, the web was more than an ocean full of disorganized information floating around; we were now armed with a high-tech fishing rod that could pluck out exactly what we needed.

Today, the booming multi-platform app economy is changing the way we interface with the internet and search. Apps now dominate our information intake, as internet users digest increasingly more data from their mobile devices. Rather than searching the web for a movie time at a local theater, we now pull up our convenient movie app. We check sports scores from a specific app with its own experience. Need to convert that Metric measurement to Imperial units? There most certainly IS an app for that.

But the reality is that the huge wave of apps has us stuck back in the pre-search ocean again. The near future will bring apps built into every device in our lives – our TVs, our cars, and our refrigerators are already starting to adopt the technology, so we are never more than a few finger taps away from the information we crave. The iTunes App Store, Google Play, and the Windows Marketplace all resemble a frenzied bazaar, with noisy developers hawking their wares. Since apps have taken over, the challenge has shifted from learning what users are looking for to designing a system for getting it to them.

Classic search engines assume that the user expresses their intent with a search query, but searching through apps requires a different type of mentality. What search terms would one enter to find the popular game app Angry Birds? “Shoot birds at pigs?” Search engines assume you are looking for information, but in the app economy, the approach has always had to be different. The standard thus far has been to categorize, a la early Yahoo!, and allow people to simply narrow down what they are looking for.

There are some startup companies trying to create app search engines to try and keep up with the more than half a million apps currently available to consumers. With as many as 60% of iOS applications having never been downloaded, there definitely needs to be a better way to deliver results, or innovative new businesses and their backers releasing new apps will continue to face a major challenge of how to be found. Despite all the progress forward, when search is made obsolete, we can’t regress to just ‘surfing’ in the new internet landscape.

Tapping into the TRUST Fund

Tapping into the TRUST Fund

In our modern marketing economy, trust has become paramount in communications, and an integral component of relationships between businesses and consumers. These days, trust is engendered primarily by our peers, with social media serving as a cornerstone in the foundation of those relationships thanks to its rapidly growing influence.

In 2012, social media has come to permeate our lives to a great degree. As an outlet for marketing and advertising, networks like Facebook and Pinterest have become some of the most effective and popular ways to generate business, rivaling or even surpassing the power of the search engines that previously guided the large majority of visibility in the marketplace. A social media advertising campaign fundamentally demands that a brand relinquish control and submit to the power of its followers, but the formula isn’t as simple as just letting go.

Social media is conversational by nature, but it still affords authority to brands. Often times, it is the brand that starts the conversation that disperses through a network of peers. This power entails a new kind of responsibility for brands in terms of creating a consistent, constant, and well-thought out message in order to be effective without being overbearing or burdensome. The power of the network is undeniable; what a brand says will affect its audience to a great degree, so it is crucial to carefully measure communications to ensure a positive impact.

Such is the case in Financial Marketing, an industry presently under the microscope when it comes to issues of trust. The kind of trust that facilitates effective use of social media has been so severely damaged by the actions of financial institutions in the past 5 years that marketers’ main challenge is not to sell a product or service, but rather to simply regain the confidences of its once-loyal audience. Taking the time to ensure that all communications originating from the company on social networks positively reflect the brand will have an exponential effect as the message disseminates across the network from peer to peer.

With social media, the dynamic has changed. People have been appointed with the power to dictate the dialogue that long belonged to the brands. Tap into the trust of this set and leverage their collective voice to generate a stronger message than ever.

Solavei: The Network Where Social Meets Commerce in a Big Way

Solavei™, the first social commerce network for mobile services distribution, is grabbing headlines in anticipation of its September 21st launch.

Solavei™ is a new social commerce company offering an affordable, contract-free mobile service that actually pays back consumers for adding new members. The Solavei Mobile Service is a comprehensive mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) utilizing T-Mobile’s nationwide 4G network. As a member of the network, consumers sign up for a $49 per month unlimited voice, text and data plan, and earn income by engaging friends and family to purchase the mobile service through Solavei’s integrated social networking platform.
“We are going to make a difference in people’s lives by shifting billions of dollars from traditional mass-media advertising into the greatest advertising vehicle today – people,” said Ryan Wuerch, founder and CEO of Solavei. “Solavei is the first company to create an economic linkage between mobile service, social commerce and social-networking technology. We give people the opportunity to earn income by using and promoting the services they are already consuming each and every day.”

The first half of 2012 has brought quite a bit of excitement across the marketing and media industries. Facebook stole the headlines with the unprecedented valuation and their May 17 IPO that is now considered one of the worst performing of 2012. Twitter experienced its longest service disruption since an hour long outage in October 2011, causing an internet freak-out. Just now, as Q3 begins, Microsoft and NBC complete a web divorce that has industries speculating what the future holds for NBCnews.com. The appointment of Marissa Mayer, 37, to run the global media giant Yahoo! as the youngest CEO in the Fortune 500 continues the trend. While it’s hard to predict what is to come, it’s safe to say that Solavei is attempting to do what no other company has tried.

“As a purveyor of all things social and mobile, Solavei is positioned to completely revolutionize the market place,” comments Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner of Junction Creative Solutions. “As founding members, we have the access to test the platform before its official launch into the marketplace. As an agency, it’s a great experience to be involved with such an amazing group of leaders who will make a significant impact on consumer behavior, social networks, and commerce.”

Gareleck is sharing a few spots for other industry leaders interested in testing this new network before its debut on September 21st. Contact Gareleck at julie@junction-creative.com for an invitation.

ABOUT SOLAVEI

Solavei is a social networking and commerce platform that enables users to connect, share and capitalize on the power of social networks. Solavei’s mission is to make commerce less expensive by empowering individuals to earn income on the products and services they enjoy and use every day. Solavei’s initial product offering is affordable, no contract, unlimited text, voice and data services throughout the United States. It operates as a MVNO through a strategic partnership with T-Mobile USA. Solavei is led by former Fortune 100 telecom and retail executives and advisors. For more information, visit www.solavei.com. For the brand’s latest news and updates, find Solavei on social media at facebook.com/solavei and twitter.com/solavei.

Checking In on Checking In

A unique concept bridging social networking and location-based marketing, check-in applications have become one of the most prominent trends in marketing. A few years ago, the first round of mobile check-in apps hit the market, spurring the excitement for this technology. By allowing users to announce their presence at a restaurant, bar, or event venue and earn badges and achievements, these apps were a fun way to find and connect with friends.

It did not take long for advertisers to realize the potential of these platforms to reach users with location-based marketing opportunities, and the check-in app market experienced a significant shift. For many users, these apps have now become all about the “gimmie.” Consumers are demanding more than just a place in a ‘leaderboard;’ instant deals, coupons, and prizes are far more attractive and more effective in creating new customers.

The principal player in the check-in app market, Foursquare, recently rebranded to facilitate more social interaction on the app and the site, in line with the preferences of its users. As a result, the company’s level of user engagement has been amplified, adding value for businesses and advertisers as well.

Google also took notice of the shift, eliminating its underperforming Google Places and choosing to integrate check-in functionality on its budding social network, Google+. Calling the new service Google+ Local, the tech giant hopes to spin the momentum of the check-in trend to build popularity with the

Now, check-in features have spread to other platforms. Facebook and Twitter, among others, are in the competition, offering optional location based services that help personalize user experience on the sites. Adoption has been fairly slow, but as always, there is incentive for members to connect with their networks on a local level.

Where is this trend headed? Some are concerned that advertisers will have an extremely close pin on where a consumer is at any time, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As is the case with all location-based services, users must first opt-in, protecting them from undesired monitoring. Still, as social networks manage to better target the extensive user bases, a massive amount of data is being gathered that is extremely useful to marketers in offering products and services in line with consumer wants. For many consumers and advertisers alike, the proliferation of check-in apps may just be the key to more mutually beneficial relationships.